CONFERENCE REPORT ON S. 735, ANTITERRORISM AND EFFECTIVE DEATH PENALTY ACT OF 1996 -- HON. LOUIS STOKES (Extension of Remarks - April 19, 1996)
HON. LOUIS STOKES
in the House of Representatives
THURSDAY, APRIL 18, 1996
- Mr. STOKES. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to the conference report for the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. As the recent despicable acts of terrorism in Oklahoma City clearly demonstrate, America must do all that it can to put an end to acts of terror. Unfortunately, this legislation has failed to achieve an appropriate balance between our desire to take action against terrorist acts and our desire to protect the fundamental civil rights of all Americans.
- In my view, the attacks on habeas corpus included in this legislation that purports to address the terrorist threat is so objectionable I must oppose this bill. I do support my Democratic colleagues' carefully crafted genuine antiterrorism bill, that is unencumbered by the provisions hostile to our constitutional rights that have been included in S. 735.
- Throughout my career, I have believed in and fought for the protection of all Americans' fundamental rights under habeas corpus. As Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase described it in ex parte Yerger U.S. (1868), habeas corpus is the most important human right in the Constitution and the best and only sufficient defense of personal freedom. As a nation, we cannot afford to compromise the cherished habeas corpus protections guaranteed each of us in the U.S. Constitution.
- Mr. Speaker, the arbitrary 1-year limitation on the filing of general Federal habeas corpus appeals after all State remedies have been exhausted entirely fails to address real problems inherent in the current capital punishment system. For example, S. 735 does virtually nothing to deal with the lack of competent counsel at the trial level and on direct appeal which constitutes the primary basis for the delay of many appeals.
- It is also no secret that I am opposed to the death penalty. S. 735, among other things, would greatly expand the reach of the Federal death penalty which I believe is overly harsh--particularly because it fails to address the economic and social basis of crime in our most troubled communities. Furthermore, when closely examined, the sentencing history of the death penalty has clearly been arbitrary, inconsistent, and racially biased. Regardless of whether this double standard is intentional or not, the result clearly establishes that there continues to be an impermissible use of race as a key factor in determining imposition of the death penalty. This measure fails to include any provisions to end the repugnant practice of the disproportionate application of the death penalty on minorities.
- Mr. Speaker, I share the national outrage expressed against terrorism. America should and must act swiftly and decisively to end these despicable acts. We must not, however, under the guise of fighting acts of terror, sacrifice our constitutional rights. As legislators, we must judiciously seek a balanced strategy to diminish the dangers of terrorism and injustice. I urge my colleagues to therefore vote down this measure; preserve our ability to enforce the Bill of Rights.